Flash Review, Issue #002

Here are a few short reviews of the books I’ve been reading recently. (You might notice a lot of speculative fiction in here!)

Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach

This book definitely doesn’t suffer Second Book Syndrome. The continued adventures of Devi Morris takes readers from Fortune’s Fool to the wider universe as she tries to unravel what’s happening to her and why she can’t just shoot all her problems.

Though I wasn’t a huge Devi fan after reading Fortune’s Pawn, HONOR’S KNIGHT delved further into her personality, pulled back from the less-than-interesting romantic subplot, and engaged with some really great universe-building. I’d say this book is great for a space opera fan and is more than ready to pull any reluctant readers of this series back in.

March 2014 Review

After coming home from a trip to Seattle for AWP, I was very ready to kick off the month with a bang.

This month’s articles:

This month’s books for the 100 in 2014 Challenge have been a lot of fun. I finished up ANCILLARY JUSTICE for the Girls in Capes Book Club – it was a re-read, but I definitely enjoyed it!

The titles I read in March feel pretty diverse, especially looking back at the list now.  Aside from space operas ANCILLARY JUSTICE and the new title from Rachel Bach, HONOR’S KNIGHT, I also read a pair of historical fiction graphic novels, BOXERS & SAINTS by Gene Yang, and the first volume of MADOKA MAGICA: THE DIFFERENT STORY by Magica Quartet.

A fairy tale-like full-color graphic novel called THE LEGEND OF BOLD RILEY – written by Leia Weathington and featuring art by several different artists – was one of my favorites this month.  The protagonist, Bold Riley, is a former princess who gave up her claims to the throne to pursue countless adventures in the style of Sinbad the Sailor.  Weathington’s fairy tale-esque language makes Bold Riley a simultaneously comfortable and fun read.

My least favorite this month was a manga titled AI ORE! by SHINJO Mayu. It was a gender-bender title about a romance between a tall, handsome girl and a short, pretty boy, and it was a really fun ride until it reached the last part of the volume, which was kind of disturbing.  I wouldn’t recommend this for readers, even shoujo manga people.

Flash Review, Issue #001

Though I do enjoy writing nice, long book reviews, my normal modus operandi when finishing up a title on Goodreads is to write a few quick paragraphs instead. Here are some flash reviews based on what I’ve been reading lately. (For more, you can always follow me on Goodreads!)

This was inspired by my friend Emily’s book reviews on her blog.

The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith

geeksguideWhile I’m most definitely out of this book’s target audience – I’m female and in a relationship already – I found this book truly funny and helpful. From the point of view of the type of person on the opposite side of most of these situations, I’d agree with basically all the advice the author gives out (yes, it’s nice for the gentleman to offer to pay for the date; yes, he should accept when I tell him I’d like to pay half; no, a gentleman should NOT wear a geeked-out logo shirt on a first date.)

But the best part of The Geek’s Guide to Dating is the voice, which is incredibly funny and jam-packs the advice with geeky references (including a how-to guide on dressing like geekdom’s most debonair dudes.)  Even if you’re not in need of some lady-chasing advice yourself, it’s a fun book to check out and would make a really good gift for a geeky guy in your life who’s currently looking for love.

- 4.75 out of 5 stars

The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard

TheAlmostGirl_CoverI love sci-fi, I love alternate history and alternate universes, and I love kickass female heroes, but The Almost Girl just didn’t do it for me. Between the dialogue – which I found a little stiff, cumbersome, and unnatural – and the let’s-make-vauge-and-ominous-allusions style of the plot, I had a hard time reading it in a single sitting, despite the fact that I can read most YA sci-fi in a very short amount of time (when engaged.)

There were some problematic things in the story – a LOT of comparisons between the heroine and other, more sexualized and consequently inherently bad female characters being my biggest annoyance – as well as the fact that I’m just NOT the reader this book is intended for. It’s much more of an action-y romance than a sci-fi story, and I think romance readers will enjoy it much more.

- 2.5 out of 5 stars

Boxers & Saints by Gene Yang

#1: Boxers – Wow. Just – wow.

I sat down to review this after finishing Boxers – directly after reading Saints – and it’s incredibly overwhelming. This historical fiction graphic novel follows Little Bao from his quiet village to the capital of China as he attempts to free China from Western military and political influence and “keep China whole.” But his journey isn’t precisely like the ones in the operas he loves so dearly, and his path wavers in places.

While I’d recommend this graphic novel to absolutely everyone, it would be best read by someone interested in learning more about world history or a particular interest in colonialism in literature.

- 5 out of 5 stars

boxers&saints

#2: Saints – To start off, allow me to preface with the following statements: I read this book before reading Boxers, which is a longer story and seems to be intended to be read first, and I am Catholic myself.

That said, I found Saints to be an incredibly compelling historical fiction. It didn’t shy away from the ugliness of religious-based politics – in fact, almost the entire story is about religion and war – but at the same time explored why people would choose to convert to a faith when it could be so potentially deadly to do so.

I’d recommend this graphic novel for those interested in world history, especially those not well-versed in Chinese history or imperialism, and for anyone interested in colonialism or post-colonialism in literature.

- 5 out of 5 stars

On My Way: AWP National Conference 2014

I’ve mentioned AWP before on this site, as I attended the national conference in both 2012 and 2013. This year, 2014, will mark my third time attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs National Conference, which takes place in Seattle this year. (The two conferences I previously attended were in Chicago [2012] and Boston [2013].)

This year, I’m attending as a staff member of Rathalla Review. You can come visit me at the Rathalla Review table on the book fair floor – if you do, I’ll give you a free magazine!  Our booth is #400, and you can also learn more about Rosemont College.

There are tons of panels I’m looking forward to checking out this year, too, though being busy with the table may prevent me from actually making it to all of them – and some of them may be packed, anyway!  Here are my top picks for panels at AWP 2014:

  1. Science Fiction and Fantasy by Women of the Pacific Northwest: A Hydra House Reading. (Friday, Feb. 28 9-10:15, Rm 303) According to the panel description, the number of sci-fi and fantasy writers in the Pacific Northwest has generated a number of small presses.  While I do love reading science fiction and fantasy, I’m not familiar with many small presses – I mainly read from Orbit Books and Tor if I’m reading adult fiction – so I’m thrilled to check out this reading and also check out the titles from Hydra House.  (If I’m reading the description correctly, the readers will be Louise Marley, KC Ball, Danika Dinsmore, Rachel Swirsky, and Abbey Mei Otis.)
  2. Hip Lit: How Innovative Reading Series are Revamping the Literary Scene (Saturday, Mar. 1 9-10:15, Rm. 618/619/620) I admit I really like interesting readings. This panel will talk about PR strategies, curating “creatively,” and making readings fresh and exciting. As I’m really interested in pursuing public relations and publicity as a publishing industry career choice, it really sounds right up my alley, and I love implementing creative ideas.
  3. We’re Having a party: Building a Literary Community Through Event Series (Thursday, Feb. 27 9-10:15, Rm. 305) Another fun event-based panel, this one will address event space, curating, funding, and hosting along with publicity, so it seems like it may be complementary to the other one. This panel also seems like it will focus on promoting independent authors and artists along with local creative communities, which is also something I’m really excited about trying out.

These are my top three on-site events for this year’s conference, and I really hope I can make it to all of them – they’re all so early in the morning, and I have a table to help with! I’d also like to check out two off-site events: the Filipino Writers Reading (Wednesday, Feb. 26 6:30 at University of Washington) and Monster Mags of the Midwest (Thursday, Feb. 27 6:30 at Unicorn on E. Pike).

There are a ton of other events and panels on my list, but these are the top – who knows how much time I’ll have to visit the things I want to visit?  I hope to see some of you there.  What are you most excited to see at AWP this year?

Passing: On Reading FLYGIRL

When trying to pick a book to read for the GIC book club in February, I had a ridiculously difficult time finding a book about a black female protagonist.  (I ended up getting some advice from a Twitter stranger, though it ended up being awesome.) The book I settled on was FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith – a compromise, as it wasn’t a sci-fi or fantasy book but a historical fiction about WWII.

FLYGIRL tells the story of Ida Mae Jones denying her identity to fly military planes.

FLYGIRL tells the story of Ida Mae Jones denying her identity to fly military planes.

As I began to read the novel, I found I related incredibly well with the protagonist, Ida Mae, whose fair skin allows her to pass as a white woman in order to fly military planes. Throughout the book, Ida is struggling with her identity and with the social ramifications of pretending to be white.

Being white-passing is a very curious phenomenon. Like Ida Mae, I’m a person of mixed racial descent, and also like Ida Mae, my skin tone is significantly more fair than that of one of my parents. Because of my appearance, I’ve been told I “look white” – also very like Ida Mae. But unlike Ida Mae, who had to teach herself to speak “like a white woman,” my manner of speech is pretty typical of a person who grew up in the middle-class Midwest. Because of that, I grew up hearing comments like “You talk like you’re white” and “You don’t sound like you’re Asian.”

Close to the beginning of FLYGIRL, Ida gets on a bus and asks a black gentleman with a newspaper about what he’s reading, and she seems sad but not fully surprised when he starts to stand and apologize to her; he has assumed she was a white woman and that she wanted to sit in his seat. There’s a distinct sensation of alienation in the story, and it’s one that’s uncomfortably familiar for me.

As Ida experiences in the book, being mixed-race, racially ambiguous, or white-passing can be a strange and very depressing experience. She seems to not quite fit in with other blacks, yet while she fits in with the white girls in the WASP training program, she lives in constant fear of their rejection, and she’s privy to more than one unpleasant remark towards the people she considers her own. She marvels at how much better she’s treated as a white woman, but can hardly contain her guilt over it.

Ida’s guilt – and the uncomfortably familiar scenarios of being privy to incredible racism – hits home for me in ways that some people probably can’t quite relate to, though I’ve met plenty of people who could: friends who have been told “I don’t even see you as black,” and others whose light skin tones make them privy to racist and xenophobic remarks because “you look white.”

After struggling on an emotional level to read FLYGIRL, I find this book incredibly important – not only because of its beautiful writing and different perspective on the World War II era in the United States, but because the issues it addresses through Ida’s experiences and struggles are ones that people in the US continue to face today, and increasing compassionate understanding is important to a more peaceful and kind society.

Help fund an Inter-Generational Poetry event in Northwest Ohio

Though I love my hometown, it’s not exactly known as a literary place. Sure, Toledo is the birthplace of authors like Millie Benson, but it can be incredibly difficult as a young woman to find a literary community to fit into.

That’s why, at the end of last year, two Toledo-area women started the Women Unbound reading series, which is dedicated to showcasing female writers and artists in the Toledo, Northwest Ohio, and Southeast Michigan area. Their events are every two months, and the most recent was in February.

Their next event, which will take place in April, is an intergenerational poetry reading that will feature the work of women from 9 to 99. Lorraine and Kayla, who started Women Unbound, want to take this reading a little further and present the work of each reader in a chapbook to be given free to people who attend the reading.

Please help Women Unbound raise money for printing, promotions, and more via their campaign at GoFundMe.

You can watch Lorraine and Kayla performing their own poetry from the December event here:

January 2014 in Review

January’s done, and it’s time to review.

This month marked the first in the GIC Book Club and the GIC 100 Books in 2014 Challenge, and I think I’m doing pretty well with both.  GIC’s book club selection this month was I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga, and I thought it was wonderful.

As for the 100 Books challenge (you can find my challenge page here), I was able to boost the start of my year with 14 titles during January.

I ended up reading a number of books in print and digital formats.  In digital, I read Sherwood Smith’s A POSSE OF PRINCESSES, a rewritten fairy tale in a non-Western setting called TOADS AND DIAMONDS by Heather Tomlinson, and MISTRESS OF THE WIND by Michelle Diener.

In print, I read ACROSS THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR by Lian Hearn, the first book in the Tales of the Otori trilogy which was loaned to me by a friend, THE SHE-HULK DIARIES by Marta Acosta, and THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H. Winters.

There were also several volumes of manga this month: TSUBASA RESERVOIR CHRONICLE Vol. 14, 15, 16, 17, and 28 by CLAMP, RINNE Vol. 3 by Takahashi Rumiko, and NISEKOI Vol. 1 by Komi Naoshi.